Pass The Blackberry Pie

THE first time we served dinner at our guest house was a tense moment. My wife, Brenda, was very unsure how people would react to her brand of wholefood and vege­tarian cooking. Apart from an occa­sional friend, she had previously only cooked for our four children – now five – and ourselves. But everything, literally, seemed to go down well, and she sur­vived the ordeal with flying colours.

We had been married ten years before events led us to consider a vegetarian guest house. Eventually, redundancy and years of preaching and practising the wholefood life, gave us the courage to move.

Devon was our choice simply because we have friends here, and a guest house promised a livelihood in a very job­less area. So, with many doubts and misgivings, we opened up our new home to strangers. Fortunately, many of these strangers have turned out to be friends; and, generally, health food “addicts” are a very civilised section of the community.

Our first guest arrived unan­nounced. He knocked at the door, rucksack on his back and a smile on his face. “I saw your advert yesterday and decided to come down,” he said.

My only reply was “Oh!” I was still frantically painting the hall, getting it ready for our bookings. Harry was one of the strangers who was really an old friend. Since then he has been back, and feels easy enough to indulge in one of his per­sonal eccentricities. “I don’t like distance to come between me and my food,” he explains to puzzled guests. Some of them are a bit taken aback at first, watching Harry’s bent form head three inches from plate, but they get over it.

Something that did take us a while to get used to, though, was what at first seemed like regular complaints. They were all about the same thing. “I’m sorry,” one person after another would say, “but I think the food dis­agrees with me. You see, I keep having to go to the toilet.”

Luckily I was able to gradually work this one out because of past experience in sharing my sandwiches with workmates. They too made the same remark. It was the bread. Most people are not used to 100 per cent whole wheat home baked bread. It makes them go to the toilet natur­ally. As this is often a new experience they believe something is wrong in­stead of realising that things are actually working as they should be.

Since those early days we have evolved what we call a “super” loaf.

This was mostly for the sake of our children, so that they would get a great deal of nourishment in the bread they ate. So our loaves now in­clude kelp, brewers’ yeast and mo­lasses, which, with the 100 per cent flour, provides quite a meal in itself.

Although the Vegetarian Society criticised us, we made it plain that meat eaters would be catered for if they wished. This was not because we feared there would be insufficient trade, but for several more humane reasons.

Many vegetarians have to live and holiday with non-vegetarian fami­lies. Usually, for the sake of their family, they have to eat inadequate and boring meals at an ordinary guest house. One woman who had been touring with her parents, and eating at “carnivorous” guest houses, said, “Thank God I can have a rest from omelette and limp lettuce leaves.” Many meat eaters, unsure at first what they are letting themselves in for, are amazed to discover that vegetarian meals can be just as tasty, if not more so, than meat meals. I suppose they believe it is all grated carrot and nut cutlets. Usually, how­ever, they end up telling us not to bother giving them meat. I guess we knew how to eat well because I had been a vegetarian for twenty years.

The nice thing about vegetarians and whole-fooders is that, when together, they all have something in common. This means that we all find it easier to meet and open up to each other. Unlike most guest houses, everybody knows something about the others, simply because they share the same interests. They also share an interest often in the mystery of life.

Many vegetarians refrain from meat because of their religion or philosophy. Food reformers refrain from eating rubbish also because of their philosophy of life. Therefore we have many people who are spiritual­ists, theosophists, or interested in yoga, and so on.

As we have no television, it is not unusual to see people getting together in a way that most guest houses would never witness. I remember one evening when the kitchen and sitting room were littered with people. One woman was busy working out her horoscope, paper and calculations everywhere. Two men were en­grossed in staring at the palm of their hands muttering about their life lines. Others were sitting on the floor telling fortunes with cards.

On other evenings somebody might get talking about yoga practice, demonstrating the postures—or an exponent of spiritualism shows how E.S.P. allows them to have insight into the other peoples’ problems—or conversations go on late into the night. So who wants a television? But, of course, we are a very small guest house, only taking eight people, so the floor show depends upon who is here. A quiet crowd produce a quiet week—every week is different!

So far, fingers crossed, we have only had one mishap during the season. On her last morning, a woman who was the life and soul of the group, got up very early to pack. Feeling the need to go to the toilet, she wanted to pee and tried the washbasin. Much to her surprise, when she sat on small sink the whole basin collapsed off the wall. Being six o’clock I was still fast asleep and didn’t hear the crash. It was only her knocking on the door, and her “Oh dears” that roused me, and it took quite a while to assure her that the sink was loose anyway.

Working seven days a week with­out rest for up to six months of the year, you need such lighter moments of amusement. But a lot of our enter­tainment comes from the dogs which people bring. The smallest ever was Wendy. She is a cross be­tween a Chihuahua and a Yorkshire terrier. Although she sat easily on her master’s foot while he ate dinner, she took over the task of guarding the house. This despite the sterling work of our own dog, Tramp.

Then there was Mm. We didn’t see her for several days as she is so ner­vous. But, eventually, it was more of a burden for her to stay in her room alone than it was to face all the people in the dining room. She ended by dis­covering a way of retreating under our sideboard when things were heavy going.

Chester was quite different. A cross between a Sealyham and some other less defined breed, life to him was a challenge; or to be more specific, our stairs were. His “family” had a room two floors up, and the sound of battle began as soon as he started to climb. It sounded like an anguished fight, but was only Chester climbing the stairs.

It isn’t all gaiety and characters however. It is also 180 days of non­stop breakfast, bed making and dinner, and coping at the same time with your own family life, which is very much impoverished. So, at the end of the season, when the last guest waves goodbye, we sometimes just sit and soak up the silence…




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